Mexico: Mayan Medicine Trip!

05/29/2013 6:15 am
06/08/2013 10:59 am

Health and medicine among the ancient Maya was a complex blend of mind, body, religion, ritual and science. Important to all, medicine was practiced only by a select few, who generally inherited their positions and received extensive education...

Since medicine was so closely related to religion, it was essential that Maya medicine men had vast medical knowledge and skill. It is known that the Maya sutured wounds with human hair, reduced fractures, and were even skilled dental surgeons, making prostheses from jade and turquoise and filling teeth with iron pyrite.

... Research of Maya ethno-medicine shows that though supernatural causes are related to illness, a large percentage of Maya medical texts are devoted to the treatment of symptoms based upon objective observations of the effects of certain plants on the human system.[2] Herbal remedies were ingested, smoked, snorted, rubbed on the skin, and even used in the form of enemas to force rapid absorption of a substance into the blood stream. Cleansing techniques included fasting, sweating and purging flushed substances out of the body.[3]

Since it was perceived by the Maya that sickness was a punishment for a mistake or transgression, it was important that the healer inquire about details of the past of the sick person. This was done in a methodological fashion, first inquiring about ascriptive attributes, followed by specific events of the person’s life, and lastly about circumstantial or acquired attributes.[5] This aspect of the medicine man’s job would be similar to a modern day therapy session.

In addition to ritualistic and spiritual elements, the medicine man had extensive knowledge of medicinal plants and how they should be used. After studying the symptoms of a sickness, a medicine man may prescribe a remedy to his patient. The number of times or days that the remedy should be ingested or applied depended on an individual’s gender; typically the number thirteen was associated with men, and the number nine with women.